We’re are facing one of the biggest shake-ups in the EU’s history, and for once I’m not talking about Brexit! We are facing the prospect of a new European Parliament no longer controlled by the grand coalition of the social democrats and the Christian democrats, and a new European Commission that will be more diverse politically than ever before.
What does this mean for transport? Well, I think as a result of this political change we will face a period of unprecedented policy and regulatory uncertainty, but I believe some major new controversial proposals are likely to emerge because they will find favour in the new multi-party EU.
I’m also certain these priorities will emerge in a new Transport White Paper, which is likely to be published next year. Although the Commission are being coy about this, if you read between the lines, and look at the evidence, the case for a new White Paper is overwhelming. The last White Paper, from 2011, reads like something from a different era. The thinking of 2011’s White Paper was very much influenced by the economic crisis, and adopted a growth first approach, emphasising the completion of the Single European Transport Area. It also abandoned the modal shift commitment, which was the focus of the much greener 2001 White Paper, launched by the then Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock.
Decarbonisation of transport will be the new priority, not just of transport but of the EU as a whole. In part driven by the overriding need to ensure Europe delivers on its Paris climate change commitments, which risks being blown off course if emissions from a sector continue their relentless rise. It will replace the current top transport priority for the EU, namely the completion of the Single European Transport Area. It won’t be shunted completely into the sidings, but will be significantly downgraded, mainly because the rise in populism and protectionism will slow down the trend towards more open markets across the Member States and with third countries. The current White Paper’s target of a 60% cut in CO2 emissions from transport will be significantly strengthened, in favour of one much closer to 100%. Certainly, for road we should expect new proposals to build on the current measures for cars, light vans, buses and trucks, to ensure zero tail-pipe emissions by 2050.
Secondly digitalisation. Given the vital importance of carbon-free, connected and automated transport, across the modes, for the European economy, and the ambition for the Union to be a global leader in this field, new comprehensive plans to provide a technologically neutral but clear legal framework, will be a key priority of the next White Paper.
The White Paper will aim to leverage these priorities to ensure transport, for the first time, becomes a political priority of the EU as a whole. The business community and the public are getting increasingly tired of dirty, delayed and difficult journeys, which will really start to impact on our planet, quality of life, and above all undermine economic efficiency and our global competitiveness. A White Paper that for the first time articulates deliverable solutions will command widespread support, especially in a new multi-party environment.
By the same token many existing proposals will fall by the wayside, and I think we can anticipate a cull of the range and sheer number of transport initiatives, with an abandonment of the existing mobility package approach, whose undifferentiated agenda has proven to be so unwieldy.
If the 2001 Transport White Paper was wishful thinking, and the 2011 version a wish list, then the 2020 White Paper, forged in a new climate of multi-party politics, will result in a small number of policy priorities that will be ambitious but deliverable.
Mark Watts is a former MEP and member of the TRAN Committee of the European Parliament. He is a Director at LP Brussels, and Co-ordinator of the trade body, UK Transport in Europe (UKTiE). He writes in a personal capacity.